Rich Kessel, Ph.D.
Is there a story behind your name?
My mother heard a song on the radio by Richie Garret. She only heard the song once, but the name stuck in her head.
Was there an “a-ha” moment when you decided to study communication?
The guys in my freshman dorm raved about the interpersonal communication class, which they called the “How to talk to girls class” because one of the options for the final project was talking to members of the opposite (or same) sex. I got a C- in the course, but the complexity of communication really piqued my interest.
Become a professor?
I didn’t want graduate school to ever end, so it seemed like the logical profession. Oops.
After I returned from China I thought I knew everything about it. I was taking a Chinese history class and I had put my own political spin on a paper. I didn’t like my grade, thought it was too low so I went into an argument with a professor until we were debating the issue. When I referenced the book we were supposed to reference he said, "If you would have looked on page 97 it was would have said…" I knew I was dead at that moment but was so in awe that he could site a source by page number in specifics. "I wish I could do that," I thought.
Is this different from what you imagined doing when you were younger?
I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer for as long as I can remember, but my dad convinced me to major in Chinese and finance as the fastest path to becoming a millionaire. I ended up minoring in communication because I thought it was fascinating. After moving to Colorado, I became jealous of the “fun” my fiancée was having in graduate school, but I couldn’t decide between CU’s program in astrophysics or UNC’s program in human communication. I like to say that I chose communication because I thought it would have more opportunities for consulting (and the millions I thought it would bestow), but the reality is that we couldn’t afford the application fee to CU.
Why do you claim public speaking is the most important class students will ever take?
Communication is literally at the center of every human endeavor. The only difference is that we think of public speaking as totally a different form of communication. But what it really all boils down to is how many people you are talking to. All the processes and components are the same, but public speaking forces you to really look in depth at the process that we usually ignored during causal interpersonal communication.
What led you to MSU Denver? Why do you stay?
I was called a week before classes started and asked if I wanted to teach a class. I said “sure”, was handed a public speaking text book and told “Good luck!” It was literally just happen stance. A woman that I was going to school with in DU that was working here got me in the door when I gave her name. I just fell in love with teaching. It was my first position and found that I loved being in the classroom! The reason I stayed is I liked the diversity the people and students at MSU. They have experienced life in the widest sense of the world. They are not traditional college students. Even if they are traditional age the experiences they have had are very “real”. I learned so much just being around them as a professor. They taught me as much as I taught them.
What are you most proud of in your Personal life? Besides teaching and scholarship, what’s your claim to fame?
I completely disassembled a 1979 Porsche 911 AND put it back together. The car was the daily driver of a dear friend, but it was unreliable and expensive to repair so when she developed breast cancer she splurged on a new car and gave the car to my daughter saying, “Every girl should own a Porsche once in her life.” My daughter was three at the time so the condition was that I restore it for her. I went overboard and took it completely apart. That was quick and easy. Putting it back together turned out to be much more difficult and expensive. It took 3,132 days and my friend did not live to see the completed project. It took first place in its class at the Concours d’Elegance car show at ACC in 2011.
Last Academic year, 16-17. I was runner up for the faculty senate outstanding teacher award!
Besides teaching and scholarship, what is your claim to fame?
For doctors to get Board Certified, they have to pass a whole bunch of tests including a communication assessment. I developed the communication assessment for a company. When someone yells and screams when taking that part of the assessment, that’s my fault.
Is there a lecture/activity that you look forward to each semester?
My obsession is PowerPoint so I really enjoy teaching people to avoid "Death by PowerPoint." So many people, including professors, do it incorrectly that I developed the 7 Rules for Avoiding Common PP Faux Pas. [In fact, the Educational Technology Center recorded me discussing the issue, I wonder what happened to it?] The big thing is, I don’t think people appreciate the science and research behind it. Neuroscientists looking at your brain in an fMRI machine can actually tell whether you are view slideware used correctly or incorrectly.
If you could leave your students with one thing after taking your class, what would it be?
Be yourself, at maximum volume.
Can you summarize your teaching philosophy?
Learning = Effort x Opportunity
Professors don’t teach, students learn. That may sound like a lame teaching philosophy, but you only get out of a class what you put into it. Learning is a dynamic, biological process that literally changes your brain: think of your brain as a muscle that requires exercise to get stronger. Would you expect to get into shape sitting around a gym watching people workout? Learning is a contact sport and my job to provide you the equipment and opportunities necessary to play. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.
Who is your Academic Hero? Why?
Carl Larson. He was at University of Denver. Smartest man I’ve ever met. His grasp of communication and his ability to recall the research and tie it to any question you had was just mind boggling. And you rarely saw him wearing a tie.
If your office was featured in the Early Bird, what objects would you highlight?
-Mitch McCarron Autographed jersey. He was former MSU player from Australlia. His mother and I are friends and she would stream the games and we would facebook chat during the games live.
-Personal Black and white portrait photo’s. Sadly not my kids…
-I have a bunch of team signed from various teams going back several years.
If you had a bumper sticker on your car, it would read :
“I’d rather be drumming,” but only because that sounds cooler than “I’d rather be reading academic articles on carbon fiber car design”
I am probably the closest person to being a real life Forrest Gump that you will ever meet.